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Online Edition - Vol. IV, No. 9: February 1999

New Church Architecture Journal Launched at Notre Dame

by David Aaron Murray

A new magazine devoted exclusively to issues of church architecture from an orthodox Catholic perspective, Sacred Architecture, premiered in December.

Edited by Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame University whose articles on architectural issues have appeared in AB, the new journal is the most recent contribution to the ongoing movement for liturgical renewal. Sacred Architecture was initiated as a response to many requests for solid information on church design and evaluation of available church architects from pastors and laypeople, Dr. Stroik said.

Readers of AB will recognize some of the magazine's editors and advisors. Father Cassian Folsom, of the Pontifical Liturgical Academy, and architects Thomas Gordon Smith and Denis McNamara, all of whose works have appeared in AB, are advisors. Others include Denver Archbishop Bishop Charles J. Chaput, and Ralph McInerny, editor of Dossier, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and author of the popular "Father Dowling" mysteries.

The new journal will initially be published three times a year, although Dr. Stroik says he hopes to increase its frequency.

He says he intends to provide high-level architectural critiques and analyses which he hopes will help set a new standard for discussion of architectural matters among Catholics. He notes that while many Catholic publications include criticism of contemporary films, drama, music, and art, suprisingly little attention is paid to church architecture, which has a greater effect on the faith life of Catholics than film or secular art. By sponsoring "substantive debate about sacred architecture" in a journal "committed to the promotion of the cultural heritage of the Church", Dr. Stroik hopes to address "a sudden awareness that what we have been praying for in the past few decades has not measured up". He is aiming the new magazine not only at pastors, liturgists, and architects, but also at lay people interested in church architecture and design.

The first issue features critiques by Duncan McRoberts of the Chapel of Saint Ignatius at Seattle University, and by Catesby Leigh of the Pope John II Cultural Center in Washington DC; an address by Archbishop Francesco Marchisano, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Conservation of Artistic and Sacred Patrimony; and an essay by Dr. Stroik on "Ten Myths of Contemporary Church Architecture". The essays are illustrated with black-and-white photographs, usually preferred by architects because they highlight architectural detail.

In future issues, Sacred Architecture will present detailed histories of every element of the church interior, including the ambo, tabernacle, baldacchino, confessional, and baptismal font. These articles should be of value to anyone involved in parish or diocesan renovation or building committees.

Conference in Rome and Florence
Sacred Architecture is just one part of Dr. Stroik's effort to revitalize architectural discussion in the US. He has already held one international seminar on sacred architecture under the auspices of Notre Dame's architecture department, and is holding a second one June 4-17, 1999 in Rome and Florence.

The seminar will be led by Dr. Stroik and other experts on liturgy, architecture and architectural history, and will consist of on-site lectures, slide lectures, and tours. It is designed to appeal to architects, pastors, liturgists and other professionals.

Habitat for Divinity?
Dr. Stroik also hopes to organize a society of Catholic architects which would host similar conferences across the country -- and would also provide pro bono advice and expertise to poor parishes and dioceses. He admires Habitat for Humanity's roll-up-your-sleeves approach to collaborative building, and wonders whether American Catholics have gotten away from the "pioneer, do-it-yourself" mode of the first generations of Catholic immigrants because they have "skyrocketed" into the middle class.

Greater Openness Needed
As an example of the kinds of issues he wants to explore in the future, Dr. Stroik says that the process of selecting architects for major church projects needs improvement.

Too often, he says, the bidding begins with a carefully pre-selected pool of architects chosen according to purely secular standards. For example, in the selection of architects for the John Paul II Cultural Center, which the nation's bishops are building in Washington, D.C., the jury included only one monsignor; the rest were secular architectural critics and academics. His own diocese of South Bend is currently holding a national competition for bids for a major church intended to serve Hispanics in Indiana, a move he applauds and hopes to see emulated more frequently.

Dr. Stroik is also editing a collection of essays on church architecture by historians, linguists, liturgists, artists and theologians which may appear as early as this summer. (Essays by Duncan Stroik previously published in AB are available on the Adoremus website.)

Annual subscriptions to Sacred Architecture are $12.95 (subscribers outside the US, add $5). Order from Sacred Architecture, PO Box 556, Notre Dame, IN, or call Dr. Stroik: (219) 631-5762 (e-mail). Individual issues are $5.

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